Where’s the power button?

Just imagine … no delete key! To be typing away with no way of erasing one’s words. Where force is needed on each letter, the loud clickety-clack echoing around the room.

Some will have learnt to type on the old-fashioned ribbon typewriters, whilst for others they are an alien concept. How can one manage without autocorrect, cut, copy and paste!?

Forget the modern contraptions and imagine an antique typewriter set on a lone table. In a bookshop. Paper rolled into place. People approach and can write a sentence or two on it. What would this be?

Where’s the power button?

what is the password?

Just such a scenario developed as part of a community project in a bookshop which opened in 2013 in Michigan and the results are beautifully collated in the book ‘Notes from a Public Typewriter’.

A joint owner of the bookshop, Michael Gustafson, whose love for typewriters stemmed from inheriting his grandfather’s beloved 1930s Smith Corono, first imagined a great new American novel would be co-written by hundreds of people.

The Literati Bookshop, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He couldn’t have been more wrong! Yet the messages are more than he could ever have predicted and they offer a unique insight into the human psyche as the anonymity allows people to bare their souls.

I’m scared I’ll spend half
my life deciding what to do
with it and the other half
regretting that choice.

They provide glimpses into other’s lives, their marriage proposals, relationship breakups, love, loss, addiction, joy, worries over school, college. Some cut straight to the question of our human existence.

The hardest thing about
loving someone so broken
is you might fall to pieces
yoursel
f.

Some are funny and intimate.

i love it when you talk typewriter to me.

Others are sweet and poignant.

I raced the snowflakes
to see who would fall first.

Of course the novelty of a typewriter features often as one young writer shows.

If I had to write a
five-paragraph essay on
this thing, I would withdraw
from middle school.

The purpose of life in all it’s facets is captured in a few profound sentences.

Life,
like this
typewriter,
has no
backspace.
Type strongly
and don’t
look back.

Every evening Michael Gustafson would collect the reams of A4 papers, read the messages and cut them out, placing some on The Wall of Fame. Fame that grew as news of the bookshop’s unusual activity became more widely known.

In 2015 an artist, Oliver Uberti, was commissioned to paint fifteen of the messages on the brickwork outside the shop and it is now one of the most photographed locations in Ann Arbor.

‘Notes from a Public Typewriter’ is a wonderful and inspiring collation of messages, some even resembling flash fiction, many incredibly poetic in nature, beautifully presented in a smaller hardback form. A sense of harmony is achieved as the disparate notes are put into various sections, first describing the initial set up of the bookshop along with his wife, Hilary, in Ann Arbor and then concentrating on different themes of the notes, providing glimpses of occasions and people in the bookshop.

The notes themselves are presented unedited in typewriter fonts along with all their spelling errors etc. They are raw, honest, beguiling, addictive.

It is a profound book, it is hilarious, it is life!

we are all stories in the end

It has become one of my firm favourites this year and a book I’ve recommended to many already!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Scribe UK / Grand Central Publishing (US)

Available: Amazon US Amazon UK

Note: All bolded text are quotes from the book.

170 thoughts on “Where’s the power button?

  1. As a writer I am still in awe of the computer. For years in the 60s, 70s and 80s I submitted all of my work typewritten with carbon copies. Because I am a perfectionist, I would often rip-up pages that had one typo toward the end. 😉

    1. Allen, as a fellow perfectionist I can relate to not letting typos slip through even if it meant re-typing a whole page! Thankfully computers were in wide use as I entered univeristy education and were incredibly helpful when writing up essays and thesis!

    1. Carol, what surprised me is how people seemed to crave the typewriter and opportunity in their lives … do we all feel the same need to give voice to our inner selves secretly … knowing it might be public? x

      1. Such an intriguing question, Annika! It reminds me of the practice of confession in the Catholic church. Yet my memory suggests that the only function it served was the opportunity (requirement) for people to admit their sins and the darker side of their thoughts and behaviors. It seems the typewriter also allowed people to express hopes and gifts that they may not have given voice to otherwise. This reminds me of something Nelson Mandela said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us” (Source: https://www.shmoop.com/quotes/deepest-fear-not-that-we-are-weak-powerful-beyond-measure.html).

        I wonder if for some, the typewriter was a way people could safely show their light and brilliance. In any case, I hope I have time someday to read the book by Gustafson & Uberti to find out what people did write…

        Thank you again for sharing such a delightful story!

        1. Carol, I LOVE this quote and had it up on my wall for many years!! Just incredible and thank you for reminding me about it. As for the the book, as some have pointed out it is a short read so hopefully you can have a chance to read it! Have a lovely Sunday! X

    1. It definitely is a fantastic and unique idea … I love how the final book was so different from the one originally imagined by the bookshop owner. He had in mind a great american novel written by various people at the typewriter … this compiliation of some of the writings is profound, I find!

    1. Many thanks for the reblog, Jonathan! 😀 It’s great to hear everyone’s memories of typing away on the old-fashioned typewriters. I wonder will we remember the keyboards of today with equal nostalgia?

  2. DEBASIS NAYAK got me interested in this, too! I went to school near where Smith-Corona had offices (Cortland, NY) and used an electric one all through college. Even with a correction tape cartridge (I used my share of them) and good planning aforehand, the concepts were similar to a manual. Still I miss the old bugger! Mom had a venerable OLYMPIA manual–your fingers got their exercise with that! ❤

    1. Jonathan, lovely to see you here from the reblog on Debasis’ reblog! 😀 Thank you for sharing your typewriter experiences and I wonder did Smith Corona provide free machines to the school since you were so close?! I remember the electric ones well and also the electronic ones which seemed amazing for the time and remembered about five lines of text which you could edit before it printed out! Oh, your mother’s machine sounds wonderfully vintage and yep, a great exercise for the fingers! 😀

  3. Hi Annika, Flashback on typewriters. How did I even do it? ‘Notes from a public typewriter’ is fascinating. Like you write, “anonymity” “bare their souls.” And, yes, a profound quote re life has no backspace. I love your words “…raw, honest, beguiling, addictive.” I googled Ann Arbor to find out the location. Thank you for sharing an inspirational, intriguing and unique book.

    We have had some challenges around here this month so I now have the pleasure reading and catching up on my favourite blogs.❤️

    1. Erica, I’m so sorry to see you’ve been having challenging times and do hope things are better for you now. I’ve been checking by your blog and starting to worry.

      It’s been a delight to share about the book and I’m so glad you enjoyed my description of it! I was smitten with the concept of the typewriter in a shop and the result was surely more than the store owners could ever have imgagined … I bet he never thought like this would be the result.

      Wishing you a peaceful weekend, my friend! love & hugs xx ❤️

      1. More of a nuisance, Annika, with some of our challenges. Of course, dealing with our spirit and emotions at this time adds to the challenges. We are at the acceptance stage of seeing no one outside of our homes. It will be a Zoom Christmas and we always count our blessings. I am returning here from reading your other posts and huge hugs to you and your loved ones, especially about your family member.

        I loved everything about this story, Annika. Memory lane on using a typewriter and then this book. Fun and interesting 🙂❤️

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